After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)
We can talk about the details of this passage and stick to the surface, or we can go deep and see what it means for us. The surface discussion provides some interesting things. For example, did only Jesus see the dove? Or was it Jesus and John? Or was it everyone? Once again, these are fascinating things to talk about, but the point of this passage, and all passages of scripture, is to glorify Christ and reveal to us what he has done for us by way of salvation.
So, I want to look at three aspects of this pair of verses and what they mean for us:
I. The heavens were opened,
II. The Spirit descended as a dove, and
III. The voice spoke from heaven.
I. The heavens were opened. What is up there? Vacuum? Emptiness? Void? Darkness and void were there before creation, and now we live post-creation. We are told by the world that in the heavens above is vast, empty space with scattered bodies like stars and galaxies and nebulae. For the most part, the implication is that space is mostly NOTHING. This is bleak and discouraging. However, with Christ, the heavens are actually opened up, and the reality behind the emptiness is revealed. When Stephen was being stoned in Acts 7, the heavens opened to him and he saw Christ seated at the right hand of the Father. The point is that Christ reveals to us that there is more to heaven than space.
There is not only a place to receive us after death, a place that is not vast emptiness, but it is a place opened for all believers, all who have a penitent and abiding faith in Christ. God's love and light come to us from above, and we are given boldness to enter into that holy place. Jesus Christ, we know, is the ladder upon which the angels ascend and descend from above. Through Christ we can communicate with God, have communion with God, and learn from God, obeying his divine commandments and repenting through Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.
II. The Spirit descended as a dove. Christ did not need to receive the Holy Spirit as a believer does. But the guiding of his ministry is by the Holy Spirit, and so the Spirit is with him as he works. The Spirit is continually working in a guiding role for the Church, even as he works inside all believers. As Christ has the Spirit upon him, and as he is married to the church, the church therefore has the Spirit upon her. Gifts, graces, and comforts all come to the church by the Holy Spirit.
The dove is the prefect symbol of innocence and peace. Harmless and inoffensive, the Spirit enabled Christ's humanity to not cry out or fight back during his passion. The Spirit enables us to be peacemakers, to be mourners, essentially to fulfill all the beatitudes, just as Christ fulfilled them. The dove inspires penitence, living sacrifice, and purity. The dove brings good tidings, as it did to Noah, and it still does through the church to the world that God forgives and saves sinners. That reconciliation with God is not only possible but can be obtained only through Jesus Christ.
III. The voice of the Father from heaven. The Father is a vast mind, so it makes sense that one cannot see an image of him, but certainly, because the Word of God is so paramount, we can hear his voice. And what's more, the voice that we hear is eternally presenting the gospel. What does the gospel tell? This is my son. This is he. Right here. This is the way I have made for salvation. There is no other. From the beginning, I have planned this to be the only way to be saved, and now, everyone here can see that this is he, the messiah, standing before you. "This is my son," means. "this is my way." This is redemption. This way comes directly from God, like a son begotten from a father. He is mediator, the go-between for church and God. Once again, he is the ladder that connects heaven and earth. In him we find the elect, for he is elect, and his church is his bride, and therefore she is elect by marriage. He is the covenant of grace, in which all believers dwell. Finally, he is the sacrifice for our sins. His death brings us eternal life. He is the substitution for God's wrath. We find life and love only in him.
Note that the voice does not say, "with him I am well pleased," but "in him I am well pleased." God is pleased in him, and so God is pleased with all who are in him. All who are united to Christ by faith also share in God's pleasure. When we were outside of Christ, we were recipients of God's wrath, but now we are in Christ, and so his anger is turned away. We are accepted in the beloved. None come to the father except through the son. In him our living sacrifice is acceptable to God. In him the gospel can be successfully preached. In him our war against sin is possible and battles are finally won. With God, we should be able to say, "This is our savior, in whom we are well pleased."
Look to the heavens and know that there is not only something there, but what is there is the ultimate reality. See the dove and know that, by the Holy Spirit, reconciliation with God and peace with the world is possible. Look to Christ and know that redemption is real and has been given freely to all who put their trust in him. Look to me and be saved, all ye ends of the earth, for I am God and there is no other (Isaiah 45:22).